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on October 1, 2002, by Nancy A. Robinson,
Barbara Friends Meeting
What made you
decide to request conscientious objector status during WWII?
I remember when
I was four years old my mother was involved with evangelical religious
work. We went to meetings every Wednesday and Thursday evening. There
I heard testimonies by Christians and was fully indoctrinated with the
Ten Commandments. For eleven years, I had a full exposure to Christian
thought. When WWII came, my beliefs were firmly instilled by these childhood
When I attended
the University of Redlands, chapel services were held four times a week.
It never occurred to me that I would be anything but a CO.
When I was inducted,
I refused to step forward to serve in the service. I was then examined
by the draft board. One of my friends was sent to prison for refusing
to serve. Later my friend was pardoned by President Roosevelt. I lived
in a small town and everyone knew me and my family. I don't think the
town wanted to call attention to itself by having a member of the community
pardoned by the President of the United States.
Where were you
assigned to serve?
The draft board
in Redlands determined where I would serve. AFSC also became a decision
maker in the process. First I was assigned to Coleville, CA and fought
fires in that area. Then I was moved to Mammouth Lakes, where there
were approximately thirty other COs. Between fires we strung telephone
lines. About that time my wife had our first child.
What were these
Life was especially
difficult for my wife and son. COs had no benefits, hence we had no
medical coverage. Just after my son was born, I was assigned to a boys
colony for mentally deficient boys in the state of New Jersey. I worked
in a clinic there for the next three years. I earned $2.50 per month
and with a wife and child that pay made life difficult. I served for
a total of four years. At some point, I received a raise to $15 per
month but still there were no benefits.
One of my jobs
was to treat the boys for scabies. Because many boys slept in one large
room with beds quite close together, disease was a problem. Once a month
I had to wash them all with sulfur to control the scabies. After I finished
the job, I was extremely careful to wash myself thoroughly.
When Germany surrendered,
I thought Japan would soon surrender as well. My wife and son moved
back to California, where my wife worked for the Red Cross in Oakland.
We thought I would be released shortly, but that was not the case. The
boys colony was happy to have the employees provided by the COs at $15
per month and they were reluctant to release us. Finally I had to get
an order that I was being held against my will when the superintendent
of the colony ignored my request. Eventually a Federal Marshall came
and I was put on a train for California the next day. I moved to Oakland
where I worked as the membership director for the YMCA for five years.
I bought a house in Palo Alto with the director of the YMCA signing
on the loan for me. It was still difficult to afford the house on my
salary of $1400 per month and so I went into the insurance business.
Do you feel
the time spent serving was worthwhile to you personally? To the war
effort in the country?
was dangerous business. However, the alternate service responsibilities
were important. One time I had to go on a rescue mission with eight
men to Mt. Whitney. A man had broken his leg and had to be carried down.
This experience was one of the coldest in my life. Our faces were actually
burned by the cold.
As far as the alternate
service goes, I have no questions that this was the right thing for
me to do. My wife's family was Christian Scientist and she was also
in favor of my being a CO.
As you look
back on the experiences, do you think they changed you as a person?
If so, in what way?
I think I could
not have done anything but become a CO. I do not think it necessarily
made me better. I think that is who I was. Today I do not march and
protest. I have two artificial knees and walking distances is not easy.
I feel I have many other things to offer. I accomplish something important
by being a good neighbor, by keeping the poetry reading group going.
I made many close
friendships over the years and am able to bring people together. Neither
my spirit nor thinking has changed. One of the things I enjoyed the
most about my service was being very supportive of the patients at the
boys colony. I would rather do caring than discipline any day.
Would you advise
young men today to consider CO status?
Young men today
need to think through philosophically about making this choice to become
a CO. If you do not believe deeply in non-violence, it is difficult
to obtain CO status.